‘Nearly every firm had a sports ground – they were all over Sheffield. Now they have all disappeared’

WE ARE SHEFFIELD FEATURE.....Bill Betts of Robertson Road,Sheffield......Pic Steve Ellis
WE ARE SHEFFIELD FEATURE.....Bill Betts of Robertson Road,Sheffield......Pic Steve Ellis

Tennis, cycling, squash, football, fishing, walking and even windsurfing.

You name it, Bill Betts has taken part in it.

WE ARE SHEFFIELD FEATURE.....Bill Betts of Robertson Road,Sheffield.COPY Pic of Bill (extreme right) a member of the Firth Brown Tennis Team

WE ARE SHEFFIELD FEATURE.....Bill Betts of Robertson Road,Sheffield.COPY Pic of Bill (extreme right) a member of the Firth Brown Tennis Team

The 78-year-old - who lives in Walkley with Barbara, his wife of 56 years - said he was given the bug by his mum and dad, who both loved the outdoor life before they had children, and brought up their kids the same way.

“I just love the outdoors. My wife and I have always been outdoor people,” says Bill. “That is how I was brought up. It is in my blood.”

Bill was born in Darnall but grew up in Attercliffe and Parson Cross.

He left school at 15 in 1955 and went to work at Firth Brown Tools on Saville Street, working in engineering for the next 30 years.

WE ARE SHEFFIELD FEATURE.....Bill Betts of Robertson Road,Sheffield......Pic Steve Ellis

WE ARE SHEFFIELD FEATURE.....Bill Betts of Robertson Road,Sheffield......Pic Steve Ellis

There, his love of sport was nurtured into a talent for sporting administration, as he organised tennis, badminton and squash leagues for the firm’s huge workforce.

Back then, members of staff and unions demanded their companies provided good quality recreation facilities, says Bill.

He said: “Nearly every firm if it was big enough had a sports ground - they were scattered all over Sheffield. Now they have virtually all been built on and disappeared.

“You see people now on the machines in the gyms and it doesn’t seem the same. Then we were are mixing together. It was to generate camaraderie, to get people to talk to each other in the factory.

WE ARE SHEFFIELD FEATURE.....Bill Betts of Robertson Road,Sheffield.COPY Pic of Bill (centre) aged 16 leaving on a cycle ride to Cleethorpes

WE ARE SHEFFIELD FEATURE.....Bill Betts of Robertson Road,Sheffield.COPY Pic of Bill (centre) aged 16 leaving on a cycle ride to Cleethorpes

“In the big companies you wouldn’t see a quarter of the workforce because they worked in different parts of the factory or even different sites.”

But the sports they used to play weren’t just a bit of hit and giggle - they were a serious business, says Bill.

“We had directors entering into the competitions we ran,” he says.

“People would be worried that they were playing a director but I would just say he is only in shorts just like you.”

Bill said firms saw the benefit of getting behind their workforce by providing things that their staff could enjoy away from the daily grind.

And his interest in sports even paid dividends in his own career by making him a well known and trusted face among both the workforce and the management of the company.

As a result he became the youngest foreman in the factory at the age of just 24.

As well as Barbara and sports, the other great love of his life - again associated with the great outdoors - has been camping.

Again, he credits his parents with instilling in him the camping instinct, which started with very basic but fondly remembered trips to Scarborough.

“I have camped ever since being a child and when I met my wife we bought a tent, then a trailer tent and then a caravan,” he says.

“You can go somewhere different every weekend. We have been all over England.”

Among his favourite places he counts Devon and Cornwall, the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales.

And the beautiful coastal town of Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire was also a perennial favourite when his children were growing up.

Bill finally knocked competitive sports on the head in his 60s, and now prefers to test himself on his bike against the many inclines of his home city or taking on serious walks up Scottish munros or Peak District fells.